Getty Images
Getty Images

A Brief History of Stadium Naming Rights

Getty Images
Getty Images

Purist fans decry corporate stadium naming-rights deals as another step in the crass commercialization of sports. Owners see the deals in a different light; a well-negotiated package can bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for a team. Sixty years ago, no one would have seen this debate coming. At the time, stadiums and arenas were mostly named after people or their geographic location, and now it's a bit unusual to see a stadium going by such a nondescript moniker. (Just look at the case last week when McAfee Coliseum in Oakland reverted back to its old name of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum; officials quickly advertised that the stadium's name was back up for corporate bids.)

So how did our stadiums become billboards capable of seating thousands of people? Here's a bit of history and a few choice anecdotes on the expensive, gaffe-filled world of stadium naming deals.

This Bud's To Blame

If you thought Anheuser-Busch's only advertising breakthroughs were Clydesdales and talking frogs, think again. In 1953, the brewery wanted to buy the naming rights for Sportsman's Park, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals, and rename the park "Budweiser Stadium." National League President Ford C. Frick wasn't so hot on naming a stadium after booze, but he allowed Augustus Busch to stick his family's surname on the park. The Cardinals opened the 1954 season in Busch Stadium. Anheuser-Busch quickly rolled out "Busch Bavarian Beer" to take advantage of this advertising. This Busch Stadium closed in 1966, but the Cardinals' two subsequent homes have kept the name. Busch Bavarian Beer morphed into what's now Busch and Busch Light, so thank Ford C. Frick and Stan Musial the next time you play beer pong with those suds.

The Astros Learned a Valuable Lesson

When a team sells its naming rights to a corporation, even the mascots are crossing their fingers that nothing goes terribly and embarrassingly wrong during the life of the deal. Just ask the Houston Astros. The team thought it had pretty much taken care of naming its beautiful new stadium when it signed a 30-year, $100 million deal with a local energy company in 1999. The same company's CEO and chairman threw out the ballpark's first-ever ceremonial first pitch when the stadium opened in April 2000. As you may remember, Enron was the sponsor, and its disgraced leader Ken Lay tossed out that pitch. The Astros actually bought the naming rights back from Enron for $2.1 million after the energy giant's scandal and fall, and quickly sold them to Minute Maid for a rumored $100 million-plus over 28 years.

But they weren't alone. The Astros weren't the only team to suffer such a debacle. The Tennessee Titans couldn't have liked playing in Adelphia Coliseum after the cable company went bankrupt due to massive internal corruption. The Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins thought they were getting a great deal when they sold the naming rights to Joe Robbie Stadium to Pro Player, a company you might remember for making sports-themed outerwear in the mid-90's that was very similar to Starter's but nowhere near as cool (at least not at my middle school). Pro Player was part of Fruit of the Loom, which liquidated the division as part of a 1999 bankruptcy episode. Unfortunately for Miami's teams, the stadium-naming deal was for a full decade, and the name Pro Player Stadium stuck until 2005.

It's Not Just Corporate Names That Can Embarrass You

The University of Missouri learned this one the hard way. When Mizzou opened its new basketball arena in 2004, it bore the name "Paige Sports Arena." The titular Paige was Elizabeth Paige Laurie, the daughter of Wal-Mart heiress Nancy Laurie and her husband Bill. The couple had donated $25 million to help build the arena. This name seemed like an odd but endearing gesture from ultra-rich parents, but it was a bit puzzling, particularly since Paige went to college at USC, not Missouri.

It turned out, however, that this wasn't the first time one of the Lauries had opened their wallet in a major way on a college campus. Later that year Paige's freshman-year roommate at USC revealed that Paige had paid her $20,000 to write Paige's papers and do other coursework at USC. The Laurie parents promptly returned the arena's naming rights to the university following this scandal.

Mizzou wasn't alone in this sort of embarrassment, though. Villanova's basketball arena, the Pavilion, was originally du Pont Pavilion in honor of John Eleuthere du Pont, a du Pont heir and philanthropist. This name sounded great when the arena opened in 1986, particularly since du Pont had helped fund the construction. It took a decidedly sinister turn in 1996, when du Pont, a paranoid schizophrenic, murdered Olympic wrestling gold medalist David Schultz. Following his conviction, the venue's name changed to just "the Pavilion."

Not All Companies Want Naming Rights

When the St. Louis Rams moved to town in 1995, they played the first half of their home slate in Busch Stadium while waiting for their new dome to open. The team then moved into the Trans World Dome, named after Trans World Airlines. Unfortunately TWA could lose money as quickly as the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams offense could score touchdowns, and in 2001 American Airlines bought TWA, which was bankrupt. American Airlines didn't want the naming rights to the stadium, though, so the dome picked up the generic name "Dome at America's Center" for a season before brokerage Edward Jones bought the rights in early 2002. Apparently American Airlines wasn't opposed to all naming-rights deals though; it now has its name emblazoned on two different NBA arenas, the homes of the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat.

It Can Be a Huge Windfall

When the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium opens next season, it will probably be one of the biggest sports stories of the year. The $1.3 billion venue will feature 80,000 fans, the world's largest high-definition television display, and Tony Romo's infectious charms. What it doesn't yet have, though, is a name. Someone will eventually shell out for the naming rights, though, and they won't come cheap. It's rumored that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants upwards of $1 billion for a 30-year naming-rights package. While Jones may not pull that sort of coin for his football cathedral, he's not going to take pocket change for it, either; even more conservative analysts estimate the stadium's name could fetch a 30-year deal for between $10-18 million a year.

If the Cowboys' new digs get a deal at the upper end of that range, the contract shatter the current record for stadium naming. Citigroup is forking over $400 million over 20 years to sponsor the Mets' new home after Shea Stadium closes this season (Citi Field). Jay-Z and his Nets will enjoy an equivalent deal when they move into their new home in Brooklyn, the Barclays Center.

Ethan Trex co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

See also...

5 College Bowls With Peculiar Corporate Sponsors
*
How Sports Owners Made Their Money
*
An Unofficial Guide to Life as a Ref
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All-Star Voter Fraud
*
Quiz: Mr. Burns' Softball All-Stars
*
Quiz: Where Are They Now? College Superstars
*
The Bud Bowl: A Definitive History

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General Mills
10 Winning Facts about Wheaties
General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

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TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
The Sandlot Is Returning to Theaters for Its 25th Anniversary
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Few films from the 1990s have grown in stature over the years like The Sandlot. Though it gained respectable reviews and box office receipts when it was released in April 1993, the movie's standing in pop culture has since ballooned into cult classic territory, and you can still find merchandise and even clothing lines dedicated to it today.

Now you can revisit the adventures of Smalls, Ham, Squints, and The Beast on the big screen when Fathom Events and Twentieth Century Fox, in association with Island World, bring The Sandlot back to theaters for its 25th anniversary. The event will be held in 400 theaters across the U.S. on July 22 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and Tuesday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m. (all times local).

Each screening will come complete with a preview of a new documentary detailing the making of the movie, so if you wanted to know even more about how this coming-of-age baseball classic came to be, now’s your chance.

For more information about ticket availability in your area, head to the Fathom Events website. And if you want to dive into some more trivia about the movie—including the fact that it was filmed in only 42 days—we’ve got you covered.

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